Let’s reunify Japan in Total War: Shogun 2! Part 1: Awakening the Tiger

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Total War: Shogun 2

Introduction

Hello, and welcome to my Let’s Play of Total War: Shogun 2.

Shogun 2 casts players as a daimyo, one of the regional warlords of sixteenth-century Japan. The ultimate goal is to march on Kyoto, at the centre of the map, and enthrone oneself as shogun. Along the way, the player must manage a realm, raise armies, and command them in battle. The game triumphs on every level — as an exercise in strategic decision-making; as an epic come to life; and as an aesthetic treat. It is my favourite strategy game of all time.

For this run, I have opted to play as the Takeda clan, led by one of the most renowned warlords of the period — Takeda Shingen. This is, in fact, my second Takeda attempt — I abandoned the first after painting myself into a corner. I turn the game’s difficulty up to “Hard”, which affects both the strategic map and the tactical battles. My intent is to turn down the battles to “Normal” — the computer cheats on higher battle difficulties. Instead, I forget. As a result, the game so far has been entirely played on Hard.

I’ve chosen the Takeda for two reasons. First, their location in central Japan will make for a nice change — I won my last Shogun 2 campaign (using the Fall of the Samurai expansion pack) as an outlying island clan. Second, I’ve been meaning to make more extensive use of cavalry in Total War games, a job for which the Takeda are well-suited — all their horsemen receive a bonus.

Here is the opening cinematic for the Takeda:

And here is the situation at the beginning of the game:

S2 Takeda startThe Takeda start in Kai province, a landlocked mountain pass that runs north/south. All cavalry trained in Kai will receive a bonus, courtesy of the province’s superior horse pastures; this stacks with the innate Takeda bonus to cavalry.

To the north of Kai is North Shinano, also landlocked. It is home to the Murakami clan, who begin at war with me — you can see a small Murakami army near the border. To the south are Musashi province, home to modern-day Tokyo, and Suruga province, home to the allied Imagawa clan.

To win the game, I have to hold 25 provinces, including Kai, Kyoto, North Shinano, and three other provinces all to the north of Shinano. Before then, I must face one of Shogun 2’s most distinctive challenges — realm divide. When I draw close to victory, most of the remaining computer players will declare war on me; I’ll need to build my empire around surviving that final difficulty spike.

Continue reading “Let’s reunify Japan in Total War: Shogun 2! Part 1: Awakening the Tiger”

What I’ve been reading

The first post in a planned series!

  1. Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely (non-fiction): A breezy, entertaining romp through one of my favourite topics — behavioural economics. Still, I’d rank this second to Professor Ariely’s free online course – he is a very good presenter, and in his hands, the subject comes alive on screen. Watch out for the course the next time it comes up.
  2. Southeast Asia in World History, by Craig Lockard (non-fiction) – A brief overview of Southeast Asian history, about the only one I’ve found. As one Amazon reviewer points out, it possesses the usual strengths and weaknesses of its kind —  trying to cover a lot of history in a very short book will provide a quick background… wrapped up in a dry list of dates and names. I am only halfway through the book (up to the eighteenth century); I’ll see if the second half picks up.
  3. The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (novels) – JK Rowling’s pseudonymous crime fiction. Solid, entertaining stuff — I like it better than Harry Potter. The main characters are fun to be around, although the secondary characters (especially in Silkworm) are a bit too grotesque. I look forward to the next book.
  4. Song for a Dark Queen, by Rosemary Sutcliff (novel) – The story of Queen Boadicea of the Iceni, narrated by her harpist. Beautifully written, and utterly bleak.

Musical Monday: “Binary Sunset” (Star Wars), composed by John Williams

For this week’s song, I was spoiled for choice — ever since playing Empire at War, I’ve been in the mood for Star Wars music. In the end, I opted for the hopeful, yearning piece below. Enjoy, and may the Force be with you, gentle reader!

Announcing my recommended reading list

Inspired by similar lists created by Tim Stone of RPS and Bruce Geryk, I am very pleased to unveil my recommended reading list for fans of this site! You can access it here, or by clicking the “recommended reading” list at the top of the page.

At this stage, the list is dominated by history and historical fiction, with a bias towards my interests — economic, military, and world histories (by subject), and the early modern period to the present day (by era). Please let me know if you’d like more recommendations on a particular era — I had to prune quite a few books, especially for the early modern period onwards.

Over time, I will add to the list (this will be noted on the front page). I hope you find it useful.

Clippings: Upcoming Strategy Releases

Total War: Attila previews are trickling out, comprising a mix of write-ups and Youtube videos. Here are the more useful ones I’ve found:

I’m not worried that Attila will launch as poorly as Rome 2 — after that fiasco, the previewers are falling over themselves to be cautious, and so far I haven’t seen reports that Attila is broken. I am a bit worried that the game will turn out like Fall of the Samurai — a brilliant concept that needed a few more months in the oven. Either way, keep an eye out for my thoughts once the game is out.

In other news:

  • Firaxis has announced its latest project, Sid Meier’s Starships. Out of the several previews I’ve read, by far the most informative is Eurogamer’s (hat tip: frogbeastegg). Firaxis stumbled last year with Civilization: Beyond Earth; nonetheless, with Sid himself helming up Starships, I will keep an eye on this one.
  • Hearts of Iron IV has been delayed until late in the June quarter. I can’t say I’m surprised — given that it’s already late January and the game still isn’t in beta, there was no way it could have been finished (and polished!) in time for its original March-quarter release.
  • Finally, here is another quirky Ubisoft gameGrow Home. The trailer doesn’t make it quite clear what the gameplay will involve; given that Ubisoft’s last “small” games (Valiant Hearts and Child of Light) were flawed-but-interesting, this might also be worth a look.

Star Wars: Empire at War — Quick Impressions

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Star Wars franchise

Every so often, I play a game that’s more fun than its mediocre mechanics would suggest. Ni no Kuni was one such. Star Wars: Empire at War is another.

Empire at War was a 2006 RTS whose Galactic Conquest mode, a freeform campaign, had clear pretensions of being Total War in space — without the depth. I walked away disappointed.

I found EaW’s skirmish mode more appealing. Unlike Total War skirmishes (or, for that matter, Galactic Conquest, where all recruitment occurs on the strategic map), EaW skirmishes play out as a more traditional RTS. Each side starts with a starbase, which produces new units and can be upgraded to unlock new build options. Asteroid belts are scattered around the map; once secured by fighter squadrons, they can be mined for income. There are a handful of unit types: fighters, bombers, anti-fighter ships, and capital ships of varying strength, such as Victory-class Star Destroyers, Imperial Star Destroyers, and Mon Calamari cruisers. There are also various hero units drawn from the Star Wars franchise, such as Vader in a TIE Advanced, the Millennium Falcon, and Admiral Ackbar.

This adds up to produce a simple, decent strategy game. It’s important to build up the starbase and unlock higher-level units. It’s also important not to be overrun here and now, and upgrading the starbase is expensive and will tie up production for a long time. The result is an interesting short-term versus long-term trade-off.

Above all, EaW‘s saving grace is its ability to channel the Star Wars experience. When the John Williams music blares, and a Star Destroyer emerges from hyperspace onto the Rebel flank, and Vader and Boba Fett sweep the field clear of X-wings, the dated graphics fade away; and I forget all my quibbles with game design.

One episode can sum up my relationship with EaW. In my first few minutes with the game, Han and Chewie in the Falcon managed to solo (no pun intended) four of my TIE Interceptor squadrons and drive off their supporting cruiser. Was that an example of finely balanced strategy design? Perhaps not. Was that a cool Star Wars moment? You bet.

Clippings: Blasts from the Past

My first clippings for the new year! This week, I have two fun pieces about retro games:

  • Here is a piece by Rob Zacny on how TIE Fighter moved past Star Wars’ traditional black-and-white morality. No joke, now I’m itching to write revisionist Star Wars fanfic…
  • And here is a profile of Marc Ericksen, who did the cover art for a host of 1980s and 1990s games. I didn’t realise one person was responsible for so much of the art from that era — he did everything from Tetris to Mega Man 2 and my childhood favourite, Herzog Zwei.

Musical Monday: “Pierre de Lune”/”Wizard Stones” (Endless Legend), composed by Flybyno

This year, I kick off with one of my favourite pieces of ambient music from Endless Legend, a game that has a lot of good ambient music. (Confusingly, the song goes by two different names.) Enjoy!

My Games of 2014

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Game of the Year Awards

Welcome back to another Game of the Year list. This year, I’ve tweaked the format again — many of the games I played in 2014 were released in previous years. Sometimes, I played the old game “as is”; sometimes, I played a new port or an expanded version of the old game. So I’ve broken this post down into two parts. First, I review the accomplishments of 2014. And second, I take a look back at the notable games I played, whether or not they were originally released that year.

Continue reading “My Games of 2014”

Another year of blogging

Happy New Year!

2014 was a quieter year for the site than 2013. There were 77,000 page views, down from 92,000 the previous year. That’s still a little bit above the 71,000 in 2012. Again, the most popular posts (the top 3, in fact) related to Paradox strategy games. #4 was my guide for Wargame: AirLand Battle and Wargame: Red Dragon – quite pleasing after the work I put into it! And #5 was an old post I wrote about Tactics Ogre. Visitors came from as far afield as Iran, Nepal, and Papua New Guinea.

During 2013, I’d focused on new games, and in particular, new strategy games. For 2014, one of my goals was to write more about everything else — especially my other great love, JRPGs. So while I wrote about several new strategy games (Age of Wonders III, The Banner Saga, Civilization: Beyond Earth, Endless Legend, Warlock 2, and Xenonauts), I spent more time discussing Crusader Kings 2, Europa Universalis 4, Child of Light, Final Fantasy X HD, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, The Last Story, Valiant Hearts, Transistor, and Tearaway.

Breaking down content by type, there were no Let’s Plays s this year. I’d thought of writing one for Beyond Earth; when BE turned out to be subpar, I scrapped the idea. I did interview two developers about upcoming strategy games — Soren Johnson about Offworld Trading Company and Dan Lind about Hearts of Iron IV. I wrote my first ever game guide, for Wargame, and wrote a couple of brief pieces about genre problems — JRPG random battles and espionage in strategy games. I even wrote my first ever piece about gaming merchandise — the piano sheet music of Final Fantasy VI.

During 2015, there is one game I will almost certainly cover: Hearts of Iron IV. Whether it’s good or bad, expect me to have a lot to say! I’ll also keep an eye out for the Grim Fandango re-release; No Man’s Sky; Persona 5; Satellite Reign; Total War: Attila; and The Witcher 3.

For now, look forward to my ‘notable achievers of 2014’ honours list, which is about 3/4ths complete. I’m also cooking up a recommended reading list, containing novels, history books, and science fiction that you might find worth a look.

Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you around.

Endless Legend: a better toy than game

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Endless Legend

EDIT: This post contains my updated thoughts on Endless Legend, one year on.

Back when I wrote about Tearaway last January, I quoted Jesse Schell’s distinction between a toy (something that’s fun to play with) and a game (a problem-solving activity approached with a playful attitude). Using these definitions, I would argue Endless Legend is a good game and a better toy.

As a toy, Endless Legend is a fresh, colourful take on 4X strategy, enlivened by one of the most imaginative settings in the genre. I love its diverse factions, its aesthetic and music, its unique mechanics. I also appreciate that there’s an option to enlarge the font – Paradox and Matrix, take note! As a game, Endless Legend shines early on. The first 50 to 100 turns are an exciting competition, in which I race to expand, weigh different research priorities, or struggle to hold a distant region that produces essential raw materials for my army.

Eventually, Endless Legend runs into a familiar problem with the genre — a tedious late game. Individual city build queues, a staple of the 4X genre, don’t scale well to large empires. Late-game units are just early-game units with bigger numbers. And once one player stakes out a big enough lead, the rest of the game is all downhill. There is a “rubber band” happiness mechanic reminiscent of Civ V (larger empires are more restive than smaller ones); it doesn’t seem to be enough.

The runaway leader syndrome is exacerbated by a diplomatic AI that’s so capricious, it might as well not exist: I remember one AI player tearing up our brand-new trade agreements at the same time it was being devoured by another, larger opponent (which went on to win the game). In a different game, the AI players tried to team up on me when I pulled ahead — except that I was so far ahead that their declarations of war were utter suicide. After I absorbed them, I was even stronger than before.

With a few patches or perhaps an expansion, something to spice up the late game, I think Endless Legend could become a classic of the genre. As is, it’s one of the most original strategy games in some time, and still worth checking out for fans of the genre.